By Doug Ireland
---- — Hank Peterson of Londonderry has been maple sugaring for 30 years and knows what it takes to produce gallons of rich, thick syrup.
So, when the first days of sugaring in early March started off with freezing cold temperatures, he knew it wasn’t a good sign for the season.
The sap wasn’t flowing. Syrup producers need warm days and freezing nights to have a successful season.
That didn’t happen.
“It’s probably going to end up being the worst season I ever had,” the 82-year-old said.
When the days started to get warmer, so did the nights. Then, the season was over.
“It got too warm and wasn’t freezing at night,” Peterson said. “You’re darned if you do and you’re darned if you don’t.”
Yesterday, a frustrated Peterson was ready to call it quits for the season. He began to haul in his sap buckets. Peterson has 500 taps, half on buckets, half on plastic tubing.
Peterson and his assistant, Sandy Coulombe, were wrapping up boiling for the season with 50 to 60 gallons of syrup. They usually produce about 125 gallons a year, charging $55 a gallon, he said
“I’ve only got half a crop,” Peterson said.
Maple producers across the state are experiencing the same dilemma as Peterson, according to Robyn Pearl, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.
They’re only producing 50 to 75 percent of what they usually would, she said.
“It was extremely frustrating because of the cold weather,” Pearl said. “It really shortened up the season. We never had the beginning and the middle, we just had the end.”
Ideal daytime temperatures are in the mid-40s and the ideal nighttime temperature is about 28 degrees, according to Pearl.
The association represents more than 400 maple sugar producers in the state, who produce an average 100,000 gallons a year. The state record was 125,000 in 2011.
“You just never know what you’re going to get,” Pearl said.
Maple sugaring is a $6 million industry in New Hampshire, she said.
She expects the poor season will mean a $1 to $2 increase in the price of a gallon of syrup, which costs about $58. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.
Production also was down this year at the Pinkerton Academy sugarhouse in Derry, where environmental studies teacher Michelle Mize and 40 of her students also make syrup.
Mize said when moths started flying into the buckets of sap, it was a sign of warm weather and an end to the season.
“We heard peepers this morning and that’s a sign, too,” she said.
Mize said they still need to finishing boiling, so it’s difficult to gauge how many gallons will be produced.
They make about 25 gallons a year, and Mize said they expect to produce about two-thirds of that.
Blame the weather, Mize said. It would be cold one day, then warm the next.
“It was kind of fits and starts,” she said.
But it was still a valuable learning experience for the students, Mize said.